Category Archives: Tropics

Chapter 1 -The beginning: Small preview

“As I squatted down in the dirt, trying to make my decision, he stepped toward me, gently pressing his nose on mine until our foreheads touched, from that moment I knew he was the horse for me. Getting to this stage was hard enough but what lay ahead I could never have imagined.”

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The day we met

“Six weeks earlier I had arrived in Cartagena, Colombia searching for a horse. Leads turned to dead ends or poorly cared for animals. As the end of each day gave no results I wondered why in a country where horse is King I could not find even one. Clutching at straws I agreed to meet a young Colombian man who told me he could help, even though he looked more likely to supply me with coca than a caballo. Meeting on a street corner he pulled up on a motorbike. Speeding through the streets on the back of his bike, his Brylcream covered hair slapping me in the face I expected to be heading to the surrounding countryside but no. Deeper and deeper into suburbia, all the while him ignoring my questions. Eventually we stopped in the middle of a badly rundown housing estate and as I jump off, several more guys appear from a battered shack – “ven y mira” they invite me, “buen caballos para te gringo” Nothing about this felt right but screw it, I went in. As I walked in I heard the stamping and snorting, like the equine equivalent of walking into a garage full of revving Ferrari’s. Horses worth tens of thousands of pounds, mostly stallions pacing as much as they could in their tight stables. The air thick with the smell of sawdust and these testosterone filled horses. I tell my new friend that these horses are not what I need, that I need something a little calmer – seemed more appropriate than telling them I was not interested in stolen horses. This did nothing; they pull out the first – a stunning 15 hand Colombian Paso Fino, almost golden in colour, in immaculate condition, the kind of horse that would fetch £20,000.00 back home in England. They saddle him up and jump on trying to keep him still, telling me he is “tranquillo” as he is rearing up on two legs. I ask how much “$5000.00 for you my friend” I tell them this is way over my limit, the price drops by half, eventually it is $1k but still I am not interested and they are getting more and more agitated. I ask about the papers, no problem I am told, he is legal. I eventually get them to put the horse back into his stable. I take one more look in there, mostly out of curiosity, a little to appease them. Telling them thank you but they are too much for me, I will have to think about it. Three of them surrounding me, trying to intimidate me into a purchase, asking what can I afford, how much do I have. Getting closer and louder, watching the gap between them close I just laughed, told them maybe tomorrow and pushed my way out, blinded by the intense midday sun beating down as I open the door. I see the guy that had brought me – I tell him I would walk and didn’t look back.”

“I eventually found Red in a field North of Medellin, he was skin and bone with a shaven mane and an attitude. Our first night camping together was a disaster, unable to get him to settle in a small wooded area I sat up with him all night until I passed out, only waking to see just his head collar hanging from the tree I had tied him to. Soon his character and sense of humour began to show. Sleeping by my side, waking me early by either using my hammock as a scratching post or slobbering all over my face and head, picking up his feed bowl and throwing it at me if ever it was empty. For several weeks I spent all my time with him, training, saddling, grazing, we raced through woodlands and open plains until one night when I knew it was time. I had been stalling for days, knowing that he was as ready as he would ever be, it was not him that needed the preparation but me. All these years I had dreamt of this and here I was on the edge, what I was waiting for I have no idea, nerves maybe, but on the 9th December 2014 we set off. Destination Peru.”

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Halfway through Colombia

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Next week the full first two chapters are to be sent to publishers in the hope to secure a deal so fingers crossed. For now I am working in the UK, getting together the funds I need to be re-united with my friend and continue our journey together. I have made some updates to the site and as always welcome any comments. Also if anyone wishes, the project is still very much alive and your support is always appreciated.  It has been a great start to 2016 and is amazing to see that with your kind support we are making a positive difference to lives around the world.

Thank you all for reading,

Marc

Time to make a difference

Taxco, Mexico 2012. Jumping on an ATV I set my sights on Peru. Nearly four years later, 5000kms by ATV, 6000kms on horseback and after the most testing, rewarding and eye opening years of my life we are close to realising the goal. To make a difference.

I had previously reached out to children’s charities in each of the eleven countries I planned to pass through, hoping to volunteer with and raise funding for each of the chosen organisations. Never could I have hoped to connect with so many wonderful people or be fortunate enough to be given the opportunities handed to me. From seeing the courage of children born with HIV to having the honour of coaching disabled athletes aiming to compete for a place in the Paralympics.

Too much for one blog so we start at the beginning, Oaxaca, Mexico and my very first volunteer location.

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“Harold and Jodi Bauman founded Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots in 1996 supporting approximately seventy children. They soon realized that they could help even more children attend school if they formalized their initiative; with the help of others, they chartered Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots creating the child-sponsorship program. By the end of 1997, 148 children had found sponsors with the help of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. The number continues to climb, and today over 600 children have sponsors who support them through Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots and our Oaxacan center el Centro de Esperanza Infantil. Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots continues to serve as many of the poorest children as possible, children who otherwise, would never have the change to go to school.”

My time here set the tone for what was to follow, seeing the dedication of all involved in the project, no hidden agendas just a real desire to offer care and opportunity. I got to spend time teaching, cooking and visiting the homes of some of the children involved in the programme.

What next? With what has been raised and pledged so far we are looking to sponsor at least two children in each of the schools I got to work with. This will be just the beginning. Not just to make a one-off donation but begin what will be ongoing support. Also to provide a fee free volunteer placement service.  In the following weeks we shall be taking an in depth look at each organisation and what your support means and how you can continue to be involved, with an opportunity to see what this means through the years of each child’s education.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Amazonia

I am currently on the fringes of the Amazon, a beautiful but unyielding part of Colombia. Snakes and tarantulas too many to count, using the flashlight at night only lights up the eyes around you. Have seen my jeans turn black covered in mosquitos, gone days without real food, slept in abandoned buildings, kurals and even a dissused abatoir, walked 3 days straight in driving rain, but never felt so alive.

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We have been in a delicate area, lined one side by a heavy presence of Colombian Military and the other by guerillas so night time can be a gamble, ask for permission and make my presence known or wait until dark and try to go unnoticed.

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Over the last 2 months I have been carefully selecting my routes, sadly Colombia is second in the world for land mine victims, only behind Afghanistan. The majority of these are close to areas inhabited by the indigenous people of Colombia and so I have had little contact until now. Passing small villages I pretty much go unnoticed, just another man on a horse I get to enjoy the beauty of this incredible country, the people I have encountered have been some of the most hospitable in the world, it is not uncommon to have somebody come up, offer you a cold drink and invite you into their home for lunch before you have even said hello. Sometimes lunch even comes with a gift of a bible (picture below) And the indigenous area is no different, all the warnings and “tread with caution” messages I received this in parts has been one of the most welcoming areas.

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With the visa being a big issue we had to do something. After several hours of pleading and the use of donations to help the process along we have been granted an extra 2 weeks to pass Colombia, this came at a cost but gave the breathing space needed. Still though, 400kms was a daunting prospect. Pushing hard, at times going 8 days straight in a bid to make it in time. But here we are, 30kms out from Ecuador, Red exhausted I have stopped to recharge for 2 days before we run the gauntlet of border control. For the generous donations recieved through the “buy a bale” I cannot say thank you enough, with those we were able to “purchase” extra time and more importantly keep Red strong.

IMG_9232So far we have covered 1930kms, so proud of what this horse has achieved, passed 9 states, countless villages, recieved armed escorts out of areas I should not be and experienced things that make previous ambitions in life appear ridiculous. The one thing that really shines through is the genuine kindness of people in this beautiful part of the world. Although sad to be leaving I cannot wait for what lay ahead. Colombia and everyone I have met, thank you. I hope to be seeing you again. The full story of my last few weeks in Colombia still to come.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

What good story ends with “and then I gave up and took the easy route”

10 days ago I set off from Palermo knowing I was limited in time to make it to the border by the 17th. 3 days ago after filling a plastic bag with other people’s leftovers from a restuarant table I nearly broke. Tired, hungry, boots full of blisters and the body feeling the last 5 months of travel. I have to be honest and admit there have been times over the last weeks I have though of giving up. Exhausted I have considered looking for a farm to guard Red and finish the journey some other way. Then after finding a cural in which to spend the night realised. What good story ends with “and then I gave up and took the easy route” I knew this was not going to be easy, nothing worth achieving is

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We have been pushing hard to make the border ever since Pereira 2 months ago. Resting 1 day in 6, sometimes covering up to 42kms on foot in a day. Making sure my horse gets enough feed and carrying on by foot in order to allow us to cover more ground, has gotten pretty tough going the last few weeks. But lying there in the hammock and Red coming over to butt heads I knew there is no way I can give up. We have come too far. IMG_8925 Spending the last 10 nights anywhere we can, from cattle weighing stations to curals, nights in the hammock or on the floor, any space out of sight. Have been told many times this area is “calliente” Guerilla territory, heard this many times before in areas I passed with no problems but here I can believe it. The people wary at times, getting permission to rest in a field at night is hard to come by and so we wait until dark to sneak in and leave before sunrise. Saying this though I have passed some stunning scenery, mountain passes, riding lone for days without even seeing another person, has been an incredible if testing section of the journey. Even was joined by a slightly unhinged man who decided to walk 12hrs with me, to be honest was glad of the company, made a change, even if I did have to hear countless times how walking hurts his colon.

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So here we are, 5 months and 14 days into the ride through Colombia, 1485kms covered and 400kms out from the border with only 7 days to make Ecuador. With severe penalties for overstaying your visa (even more so when granted an extension once) I am unfortunately forced to consider the expensive option of transporting to the border. Goes against everything but I have not much choice if I wish to finish the journey with Red. And so now more than ever your support is appreciated as I consider having to use the “buy a bale” donations and pay to get Red across the border and keep the journey alive. IMG_9048 Quitting is not an option, the bond I have with my horse is incredible, the difference in the the last 5 months unbelievable. The messages and support really do keep us moving, motivated, the target of the next volunteer destination is in sight. And so there is only one thing for it. As a wise man once told me – “get out there and fill your boots” I hope to be writting to you again after the 17th. From Ecuador

Thank you for reading.

Marc

Footprints in the dirt

7 long days ago I left San Antonio and we continued the journey south. Even after what I have seen already could not have been prepaired for what was to come in this section.

Taking 2 days to rest and re-organise in San Antionio I was fortunate enough to have the use of a farm. Here I rested alone enjoying the peace and quiet with Red feeding in the field. A chance to wash the clothes, cook on a stove and not move a great deal! Looking over the maps I planned out the next few days with a little advice from Hernando, the owner of the farm. Only problem with my planned route was it happened to pass the home of a certain revolutionary group leader. Is ok I am told, just dont talk too much and pass quietly. I have no choice, 28 days to pass a border 500kms away there is no backtracking. After giving my thanks and loading up we were back moving. IMG_7850IMG_7766

I had opted to head over the mountains in a bid to make quick progress and avoid the road. The track was smooth for the first hour or so before again turning into just a footpath, dropping and rising 50 metres into ravines, the going got tough fast. I was passed by with the sun going down I asked where the nearest farm was – “ask the house at the top of the hill” as he rushed past. Soon I came to a river, wide, deep and no sign of where the path continued the other side. Knowing I had just been passed I looked for the footprints to lead me to the right path. So lucky I had been passed as would never have found the right track otherwise.

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I eventually arrived at the house on top of the hill and there was the guy that had passed me by, the people were expecting me which made me a little nervous. Inviting me in and letting me put Red in the field. Within 5 minutes I had a plate of food infront of me and was bombarded with questions, an incredibly nice family. The next day after a good nights rest Red and I were fed well, and helping to make ‘jugo de cana’ – sugar cane juice – I filled my canteen and carried on with the assistace of Elmer guiding me. There had been a lot of rainfall in recent days and so I had to change my route as the river was too strong to cross, adding a few miles but a safe track to follow.

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We continued South, Red getting stronger and stronger by the day, really cannot explain how strong the bond becomes, the trust in each others senses, you really are 4 ears and 4 eyes when travelling horseback. We pass small villages, staring faces watch as we roll through. Getting hungry and food running low I spotted a dairy farm, asking if could camp for the night and maybe help out in return for a safe spot for the night. The farm manager , Jose Victor was extremely welcoming and let me hang the hammock, rest and fill my cup with fresh milk whilst I helped out on the farm.

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The next day the air changed, the tension palpable. Even the normally reasuring silence felt odd. I had been told of a strange ambient, of bad things that had passed, this is usually nothing more than peoples imagination and tall stories but this occasion was right. Riding through the stunning mountains was something stopping me from enjoying the stunning countryside as much as usuall. Not wanting to be stuck for somewhere to spend the night I started looking early. After several closed doors I came to the home of Miriam, a lady that would not tell me her name until I gave mine, not let me passs until had been checked out by several family members. Eventually I was permited entry to their field. Stunning spot filled with fruit trees and horses. I pitched up and relaxed a little. With the sun going down I had my first visitor of the night, the usuall questions before he got to the point “are you military?” No I answer, just wanting to pass and enjoy this beautiful country. “But you have the same equipment as the military” pointing at my hammock. I explain my trip and without reaction my interrigator walks away. An hour or so later comes another, “are you on an excercise?” No sir, just wanting to pass quietly. And again, no reaction, dissapears back into the trees. At this point you cannot change location, is dark, late and you just have to hope that your answers were good enough. You dont really sleep and when you do is with your clothes on, kit tied to your leg. The sun eventually came, I packed up and moved. Although am confident there was never any danger is still an uneasy feeling that does not permit you to rest. I passed La Linea and within a few hours spirits lifted. Smiles were back and the sun was beaming.

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Over the next few days and nights we had many more encounters, some good, some bad and the extreme generosity of the Colombian people shining through. Feeding me when I needed it the most and helping with directions – one thing anybody that has travelled  Central or South America will know is that if asked for directions nobody says “sorry, I dont know” Distances change from 1hr to noooo, not possible today.  My advice – take the middle number and carry on. By day 6 I was pretty exhausted and listening to directions though I was only 5hrs from a town where I could find a stable and rest in preperation for my next leg.Carying on on foot in order to let Red rest 5 hours turned to 6,7,8 and it was getting dark. The road tough going and flanked either side. to the right a 60 metre cliff face and to the left a 40 metre drop to the river below. No choice but to carry on. Over the last few days I have experienced the hardest, the most beautiful and most testing riding of my life. This section we were tired but no option but to carry on through. Pitch black and full cloud cover preventing any moonlight I had to aim for light, knowing dipping into a field was not possible we pushed on. As always although you dont like to count on it the amazing hospitality of the Colombian people shone through and was I was welcomed in by Ricardo and his wife, offereing me the chance to use their field until daybreak. Could not have come at a better time!

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I have to say thank you for all the support, messages and donations through the “buy a bale” not only does this keep us moving and motivated but gives a massive boost. Cannot thank you enough! I hope to rest for the next few days, let my horse recover before we head on, 21 days to make the border ……………

Armed escorts and a welcome in the most unexpected place.

9 days and 180kms since the last blog. Been highs and lows, but as always Colombia delivers.

After a good rest in Boqueron, a small town rarely passed by tourists I headed into the mountains and due South, 20minutes walking the highway and we were back on dirt tracks, these soon turned into footpaths before completely dissapearing and we were back to the compass. Climbing higher and the higher the views were incredible but was clear this was not the best choice of route.The “buen dias” soon turned into “a donde vas?” With people more concerned about where I was going and what was doing there than saying hello and wishing you good day. At one point I was given an unofficial escort out of an area I should not see, but this done in the nicest possible way.

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Thinking I had a long sleepless night ahead I stopped atop another huge mountain looking for somewhere to hide out when I heard 2 dogs barking and an elderly lady carrying a chainsaw came into view. The first time somebody asked how I was doing before asking where I was going. After a small exchange and me explaining what I was doing there  we were joined by a man on horseback, I made to leave and Sylvie told me to stay with a motion of her hand. With the man out of sight she invited me to her farm where I could rest out of sight. One of the most uplifting moments of the trip and sums up Colombia, you think things are looking rough and along comes a complete stranger that helps in a way more than you could have ever hoped.

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Sylvie was an incredible host, letting me cut feed for Red, giving him a field of his own and feeding me until I could not move whilst we sat up and talked late into the night, drinking coffee grown, harvested and roasted by herself from the garden. Slept with an incredible view of the valley and was back on the trail at sunrise. This country never stops suprising you in the most pleasant ways. Still, it is always the people with less that are willing to offer you more.

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From  here I continued until the track became way too much for Red to pass safely and spotting a dirt track in the distance I headed that way. After 2 more nights, 1 in a stable and another sleeping out under the stars watching as an electric storm circled the valled I was in Rovira. Here I rested in a real bed, the first in a month now. Red fit again we continued the ride South. Passing some of the most stunning countryside so far but not always the most hospitable, seeing 2 pythons take down their prey that looked to be a larger snake or a big lizard, then stand to look me square in the eye for the longest 2 seconds of the trip so far before Red and I bolted out of there, had enough encounters with snakes and the last cost us a month of rest time so sorry but did not hang around for a photo!. Finding fields to camp in and places to hide out we made steady progress. Turned out the cash machine in Rovira gave nearly $60 in false bills, and having trouble using them on my way to my current destination I had the difference pointed out several times, at least I know what to look for now! Here in the small town on San Antonio we will rest again and use those much appreciated “buy a Bale” donations to prepare Red for the next leg.

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More to come on route here, including wildlife encounters, a lost camera returned and the warning of towns with a voilent past that turned to be the most welcoming.

As always thank you for reading.

Marc